What I’m Listening To, Booo To Complainers, and My First Commission!

j_roll_mortonHello, good morning, and welcome to the Saturday (Morning) News Post!

Well, well, well, not too many comments last week. Hmm, I managed to write an entire blog about what it’s like to live with debt, as if nobody has ever experienced that before! Brilliant. Naturally, my rant about being broke was met with general silence except for one comment to the effect of “Deal with it.”

Oh right! Silly me, I forgot: Nobody ever wants to hear a complainer,… unless of course it’s something that both people want to complain about, but in general, nobody’s interested. They’ve got there own problems. Even if it’s a legitimate gripe, even if you’re old and sick, but especially if it’s regarding a jazz clarinetist who chose his own path. After all, let’s be honest, when I’m not stressed out about money, my job is a hell of a lot more fun and rewarding than most peoples.

So will I complain about my charmed existence as an artist while millions “work” in a lifeless cubicle for most of their waking hours?

Yes, from time to time I will, because every job has its ups and downs and “The higher the peaks, the deeper the valleys.” Sure, being a bank cashier probably isn’t that exciting but do you think they ever had to fill out a “deposit request” form in front of a live audience and then, disgusted with their performance, desperately wanted to throw their pen through the nearest window, get in a car, and just start driving away aimlessly simply to distance themselves from their personal disgrace? Yeah, I doubt it!

Anyways, enough of that.

Moving on to some good news that I overlooked last week, yours truly has received his first commission to compose a piece, and for CBC Radio-Canada no less! I’d like to thank Michael Juk from CBC Radio for thinking of me to write a piece for the January 15th event at the Patricia Hotel in Vancouver. The event is commemorating jazz piano legend Jelly Roll Morton (pictured above) and his time spent playing in Vancouver from 1919-1920.

The piece will be written for the classic clarinet/piano/drums format and will (hopefully) capture a sense of Jelly Roll Morton the man, and the very young city of Vancouver that he was witness to. And of course, above all, it’s got to be swingin’!

Now, I must admit that my knowledge of Jelly Roll Mortons music and history is limited so while I’ve been sketching some musical ideas, I’ve also been reading “Dead Man’s Blues” which is about Mortons life, as well as listening to the famous Alan Lomax interview which spans the length of 8 CDs, and let me tell you, that’s entertaining.

First of all, the interview was conducted (I believe for the Smithsonian Institute?) near the end of Jelly Rolls life and basicly they gave him a piano, a bottle of whiskey, and then just let the tapes run as he played songs and told stories. The stories are fun to listen to and for me, really brought that period of jazz to life more so than most jazz history texts would do.

Now, back to that bottle of whiskey. On disc 2 or 3 you can tell he’s enjoying the his drink BUT restraining from using any profanity. Somewhere around disc 5 or 6 however, Jelly Roll is apparently well into that bottle as he launches into the most filthy, sexually explicit blues lyrics I’VE EVER HEARD,… EVER, IN ANY GENRE! Up until that point I was wondering “Why the parental advisory label?” but after disc 5, I got it. Unbelievable.

Once I stopped laughing about it however, I actually felt kinda bad for the guy. I mean, you give anyone a good bottle of whiskey and then proceed to record them for the next 5 hours? Come on! It doesn’t matter who you are, you’re going to say some things you might otherwise not want preserved for generations to come. My bet is, Jelly Roll probably woke up the next morning with a terrible hangover, amplified by the bitter head throbbing of regret. And who hasn’t been there? Right?

Anyways, I’m listening to lots of other great Jelly Roll recordings and balancing that with some new music my sister lent me, including Katamari video game music, DJ Shadow, and Mars Volta.

Okay, it’s a beautiful sunny day in Montreal today, so I’m going to enjoy it by,…hmm,… staying inside and writing clever, vaguely contemporary (while strongly rooted in 1920s tradition), hot jazz. Hey,… somebody’s got to!

Have a great week everyone and a belated Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends!

  • Janet

    yay jelly roll! yay explicit lyrics! i’m sure you’re up to the challenge, my friend :)
    (i didn’t know he was in vancouver ever!)

  • http://wsf1027fm.blogspot.com/ Guy

    Probably the first jazz I liked as a kid was The Pearls by Jelly Roll Morton. That makes me seem like about 100 years old.

    If you listen to modern stuff your sister tells you about, does she listen to old jazz? Seems fair.

    As for being broke, um… yeah. I don’t know what to say. Set up a PayPal button on your site so people can donate to you.

  • http://www.johndoheny.com John Doheny

    My wife bought me that Jelly Roll set for Christmas shortly after we returned to New Orleans post-Katrina. I sometimes amuse myself by playing disc 5 in the bandroom while student-workers go about their affairs; it’s always fun to watch them slowly realize that the ‘old time’ piano music they’re hearing contains lyrics filthier than any hip-hop offering.

    You’ve probably already done this, but reading the liner notes accompanying that set can be very illuminating. They’re by John Szwed, a respected musicologist (and someone I’ve had the pleasure of spending personal time with) and contain a lot of valuable information on the context and content of Jelly Roll’s music, something any composer would want to familiarize himself with before attempting to write something with Jelly in mind. Just as Mozart was a product of 18th century Salzburg, with it’s wealth of master teachers, players and composers, so Jelly Roll emerged from the fecund musical environment of turn-of-the(20th)-century New Orleans. There’s also a big chunk of Jelly Roll’s own writings and letters, and a narrative relating to how he wound up at the Library of Congress and Alan Lomax’s situation there (and it was precarious indeed).

    The tunes on disc 5 that you speak of (mostly variations of “the Murder Ballad”) are not Morton’s own compositions, but widely played ‘vernacular’ blues things that Lomax more or less pestered him into playing. Lomax was really only interested in recording ‘folk’ music and was initially resistant to Morton’s entreaties to record him. Lomax viewed jazz in all forms as ‘commercial’ music, unworthy of inclusion in the ‘folk’ canon. If you listen closely you can hear Morton’s reluctance to record these tunes (he says “there’s a lady present” at one point, possibly a secretary) and he certainly wasn’t anxious to be recorded playing ‘blues,’ in a style he regarded as unlettered. He called the guys who played this stuff “knucklers,” and saw them as far below his own level of expertise, which the recorded evidence of his own (much more technically demanding) music shows to be considerable.

    Sorry if this is all redundant to you, I just didn’t want your readers to get the idea that Morton was some kind of “Blind Melon Chitlin” character off a Cheech and Chong record, bought off with 10 dollars, a hooker, and a jug of corn likker.

    By the way I’m absolutely delighted that the CBC is finally acknowledging Morton’s tenure in Vancouver. It’s a vitally important piece of Vancouver jazz history that’s been shamefully neglected.

  • http://www.johndoheny.com John Doheny


    The interviews took place over the better part of a month, not a single day (as you seem to imply) so the notion of Lomax “liquoring” Jelly Roll up on the way to the tunes on disc five is unlikely.

  • Zhao Hui Zhen

    Wow, i am super curious now about this Jelly Roll on disc 5, Where can i get this disc?any chance i will find it in France ?on youtube?:-)

  • http://jamesdanderfer.com james

    The disc is part of a large box set,… I wouldn’t buy the box set just to hear this one song. You could maybe find it on youtube if you search Jelly Roll Morton and Alan Lomax. Not sure.